I was so sorry to hear today's news out of California. While I have no doubt that a future referendum will reverse Prop 8, that process will take years and resources that could have been spent organizing in other states.
Couples left in legal limbo should be aware that the state of Iowa recognizes the marriages of same-sex couples who tied the knot in California last year. Moving halfway across the country clearly won't be an option for everyone, but Iowa has a low cost of living and a good quality of life (more affordable housing, relatively low rates of crime and unemployment, short commutes, and decent public schools in many communities).
Of course, couples from California or anywhere else can still come to Iowa to get married.
Since the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v Brien ruling went into effect on April 27, hundreds of same-sex couples have been married here. More than half of Iowa's 99 counties have issued at least one marriage license to a same-sex couple. Despite an extensive petition drive to pressure county recorders, no county recorder has refused to issue a marriage license to a couple seeking one.
In my opinion, a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling will not get anywhere. I explain why after the jump.
There are two ways to amend the Iowa Constitution; I went over the details in this post. The normal route requires an amendment to win approval by both houses of the Iowa legislature in two different legislative sessions.
Democrats hold a 32-18 advantage in the Iowa Senate, and it is almost inconceivable that the Republicans could take control in 2010. Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal has repeatedly indicated, most recently on Iowa Public Television on May 15, that a marriage amendment will pass over his dead body:
Glover: The Supreme Court tossed you an issue during this past legislative session when it legalized gay marriage, it struck down a ban on same sex marriages. You didn't deal with that this year and you gave a very passionate floor speech in opposition to tinkering with that. Is there any chance that's going to come up again this session?
Gronstal: Not on my watch. As far as I'm concerned it's off the table and I'll do what I can ... I've got to tell you, as I read the constitution and as I read that decision, it was a long decision that had a lot of -- I'd encourage people to go read the decision -- but as I read that and as I look at our state constitution I'm hard pressed to find a place in our constitution that denies people rights. Our constitutions were built to guarantee people rights, not to deny them rights and I'm not going to go along with putting discrimination into the constitution.
Glover: Is there political vulnerability -- most polls that I've seen show that most people don't support same sex marriage, most people oppose gay marriages. Is there political vulnerability for you going there?
Gronstal: I don't measure things based on political vulnerability, I measure things on what my judgment is as to what is right and wrong and my judgment is it's wrong to put discrimination in the state constitution.
Glover: Put on your practical hat here. Are you running a risk here?
Gronstal: I don't care. It's not a matter of spending all my time looking over my shoulder trying to figure out what's going to happen in the next election, it's about doing what you think is right and I know it's not necessarily popular with everybody but I think people's attitudes are changing on this.
(Hat tip to the Pragmatic Lib blog for linking to that clip.)
The second way to amend the Iowa Constitution is for voters to call a Constitutional Convention. An initiative to do that appears on the Iowa ballot once a decade, and it will be there in November 2010. However, I hear no enthusiasm in Republican circles for pursuing this option. Republicans fear that if Democrats retain control of the legislature, they will be in the driver's seat when it comes to selecting delegates to a Constitutional Convention. There would be almost no limit to the kind of amendments such a body could consider. Gronstal has made clear that he would relish the opportunity to push for a Constitutional Convention to enact key Democratic goals as amendments that would go to the voters for approval.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I believe marriage equality is here to stay in Iowa. I wish our allies in California luck as they stand and fight to repeal Proposition 8. But those who have had it with California might want to seriously consider a move to the heartland. You'd be surprised how many transplants from the coasts enjoy life here.